Sagnet spends two weeks there without seeing a single tomato plant, waiting. On which? ‘Till the caporale came to the ghetto to choose people who could work.’ The ‘corporals’ are also migrants themselves, usually having been in Italy for a longer period of time and in possession of residence documents, who position themselves as connectors between companies and cheap labor.
They allow companies to get away with underpayment. There is always an oversupply of manpower in the ghettos, so anyone who complains or is difficult is simply no longer ‘chosen’ to work by the subcontractors. Meanwhile, the caporali a significant margin on the labor they supply, including by paying for transport to the fields.
The company paid a piece rate of 3.5 euros per filled box of tomatoes. The first day lasted from five in the morning to seven at night. The inexperienced Sagnet filled four boxes and earned 14 euros for the same number of hours of work. ‘Minus 5 euros for transport and 5 euros for a sandwich and water. In the middle of the fields there was nothing else to eat or drink. I came back crying.”
He kept up the work for five days. Until a colleague became unwell during heavy work under the summer sun. Sagnet asked the matchmaker to take the boy to the hospital. ‘For 50 euros, he said.’ It was the proverbial last straw for the eloquent student from Turin, who found himself in a parallel world that he had never suspected existed in Italy.